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Launch of Cultural/Literary Translators 

Selected Irish-German Biographies II


Edited by Dr. Sabine Egger (Department of German Studies/Irish Centre of Transnational Studies, MIC), the recently launched Cultural/Literary Translators – Selected Irish-German Biography II contains biographical sketches of thirteen 20th century translators and cultural figures, whose work and lives have been of significance to Irish-German cultural relations. 

With contributions by Irish and international academics from various disciplines, professional translators, editors and writers, the collection is of value as a work of reference for students, researchers and for a broader readership, as it brings together biographies of individuals who played a significant role in creating cultural links between Ireland and the German-speaking countries.

Focusing on the lives and work of professional translators, the collection explores the impact of their work as a form of cultural mediation. According to Dr. Egger some of those featured in the publication would not be widely known in this context, such as Annemarie Böll, the wife of Nobel Prize laureate Heinrich Böll, whose Irish Journal records an eccentric tour of Ireland in the 1950's and has hugely influenced the German image of Ireland until the present day.

Dr. Egger goes on to say that Annemarie Böll played an important role in introducing German-speaking readers to Irish-language authors such as Tomás Ó Criomhthain, and through translation of  texts by Brendan Behan and Eilís Dillon. In addition it was Ms. Böll who introduced Heinrich Böll to Irish writing on this level, which in turn influenced his own writing.

Harry Rowohlt, another name which may not be familiar to an Irish audience, is arguably one of the best known translators in German-speaking countries. His high profile is partly due to his impressive output, but perhaps even more so because of his high media profile as a writer and performer, a journalist and actor. His public readings, which often lasted several hours are interspersed with anecdotes and improvisations, and have become legendary. Rowohlt has lent his voice to many audio books, with the audio version of his translation of Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds continuously topping bestseller lists after its publication in 2005.

Gabriel Rosenstock, who translates from German and English into Irish, might be better known to Irish readers and occupies an exceptional position in the Irish literary landscape, partly because of his transnational approach to translating and writing.

Speaking at the launch, Professor Michael Cronin (DCU), author of seminal works on translation and questions of identity, said: “This is an important contribution to translation and cultural studies in Ireland. It highlights international cultural links which deserve further attention. From an Irish literature point of view it is important to look at how we get translated elsewhere and the enormous impact it has had.”

In the volume, biographies of literary translators are complemented by those of individuals from other professions who could be seen as “cultural translators” (H. Bhabha). The collection, according to Dr. Egger, opens a different perspective on the idea of translating cultures. She expands by giving the example of Erina Brady and her project to bring modern dance from Germany to Ireland in the late 1930s. Brady set up the first ever school of modern dance in Dublin to spread the holistic philosophy of Mary Wigman’s Ausdruckstanz in an Ireland where the body had long been a problematic, neglected site. This turned her project into a struggle against cultural conventions on various levels. The outbreak of WWII added a political edge to this struggle, and Brady soon found herself under surveillance by the G2 Special Branch as a potential German spy.

Other cultural translators include Dublin writer Denis Johnston introducing German expressionism to the Irish theatre world in the 1920s, and the “half-Irish” Herbert Remmel who in his memoir shares his experience of being fostered by an Irish farming family participating in the Operation Shamrock, having arrived as a malnourished child in a “green” and “plentiful” Ireland in 1946. Elizabeth Shaw, a Northern Irish caricaturist who went to East Berlin in 1946 to become one of the best-known authors and illustrators of children’s books in the GDR and reflects on her life and work in her autobiography, Irish Berlin, is also examined.


Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh, Registrar of NUIG and renowned specialist in Irish-German studies, launched the publication, saying “The book contains a number of fascinating life-stories, many of which are little known to Irish and German-speaking readers. It opens new perspectives on Irish-German cultural relations through a wider understanding of translation as a cultural performance. The volume brings these stories to life, making them accessible, while showing a high level of scholarship".

Continuing he said; "Published by WVT as part of the book series “Irish-German Studies”, under the auspices of the Centre for Irish-German Studies at the University of Limerick, this demonstrates yet again the standing of Limerick as an international centre of excellence in transnational studies. I am delighted to have the opportunity to launch the book as it further strengthens academic links between NUIG and UL and MIC in Limerick.”

Dr Christiane Schönfeld, Head of the Department of German Studies at MIC, added her praise: “I am delighted that my colleague Dr. Sabine Egger and the authors of this volume shed light not only on a number of remarkable individuals and highly interesting facets of inter/cultural translation, but on the significance and benefits of cross-cultural communication. This book is another example of the excellent work emanating from the Centre for Irish-German Studies and of the highly productive relationship between the two Departments of German Studies at MIC and UL, and I am very grateful to all involved.”

The book was launched as part of an IRC funded conference on “Word-Bridges: Translation in Ireland 1700-1900”, organised by Dr Anne O’Connor and Dr. Lesa Ní Mhunghaile which took place in NUIG in February.

Copies may be purcahsed at www.wvttrier.de/top/beschreibungen/ID1445.html.

A copy is also available for reference in the MIC library.

Pictured at the Word-Bridges: Translation in Ireland 1700-1900 conference in NUI Galway recently were, from left to right: Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh (Registrar & Deputy President, NUIG), Dr. Sabine Egger (MIC); Barbara Schmidt (German Embassy, Dublin)


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